Shane Smith & The Saints “Norther”

Thirty Tigers, 2024

With their fourth album, the band mark themselves out as someone who can provide music with not only grit, but also real heart.

Globally, 2020 may have been the year that felt to most like they were putting out one fire after another, but for Austin, Texas’s Shane Smith & The Saints, that was a literal reality they got ahead of when their tour bus was incinerated in late 2019; however with ‘Norther’, their first album in five years, they have proved they are more than capable of rising from the ashes.

“Can you remember, brother? / The good old days, in a cotton haze,” asks Smith on ‘Book of Joe’, the kind of opener that has the power to stop anyone who might hear it in their tracks; Smith’s deep, husky baritone is the first thing that impacts, but the song has layer upon layer of glorious orchestral depth as it growls and rumbles to its climactic end. Bursting with intensity, ‘Field of Heather’ is the story of a soldier’s continued trauma from fighting in World War II, while ‘Fire in the Sky’ is similarly a passionate story of two brothers trying to make it home from war: “The ground was covered in tears of Mothers / And sweat to ashes and fire in the sky / Father told me, ‘No matter what you do / Get home, don’t you make your Momma cry’.”

‘Adeline’ is a love song, but there is absolutely nothing gentle about the febrile way the emotions are communicated, Smith’s booming vocals and Bennett Brown’s masterful fiddle playing both contributing to the sense of desperate longing and regret the lyrics hint at: “Adeline, I should have been fine by now / But I am facing what we had / ‘Cause in the night, I can’t deny / The love from you I’m missing hurts me bad / I should have let you hold me back.” A perfect mix of bluegrass and Southern rock, ‘The Greys Between’ is another powerful love song that has Smith voicing his devotion, completely unashamed and pure: “Cause I’d search any forest, I’d cross any sea / Loved you with everything that I had / But it brought me here to my knees.”

On ‘Hummingbird’, Smith is given the chance to stretch his vocal chops even further and completely let rip as the chorus soars (“Hummingbird, don’t fly so far away / I think the answers you seek / Are right underneath your wings”), while ‘1000 Wild Horses’ lives up to its rootsy title, the music driving forward, Smith fiercely energetic vocal’s somehow keeping up the pace with apparent ease. “And oh, if the city burns to ashes, and the trees turned to smoke / You’d be everything that I need and more,” Smith swears on the lush, string heavy ‘Everything and More’. On ‘It’s Been A While’ and ‘Fire in the Ocean’, Smith’s mind is focused on getting back to the one he loves, the former a sweet but commanding ode, while the latter tackles the subject with more heat and vigour, but the sentiment remains

Co-written by Smith and his wife – who have been a couple since they were 15-years-old – ‘All The Way’ is a standout track not for any bombastic reasons, but instead because of the gentle and careful approach it takes, just a piano and Smith’s vocals as he declares his unfailing devotion. “When age like poison steals your prime / I’ll be there to hold the line / With every wrinkle, shade of grey / I’ll be with you all the way.”

They may have lost all their equipment in their bus fire, but ‘Norther’ proves that world-class songwriting and musicianship is thankfully not something so easily lost, and we should all be mighty grateful for that given the strength of the album the band has created.

9/10
9/10

About Helen Jones 135 Articles
North West based lover of country and Americana.
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